Wednesday, April 29, 2009


I have lingered long over memories of 1970. I guess I can now move on, but reserve the right to remember something else and backtrack if necessary. In an earlier episode I described going to Auburn and getting married. So I am picking up the story line again back in Birmingham in the fall of 1971. Things were beginning to break down on the Southside. I had some friends who I found had unhappily wandered off into areas that repelled me. I did not find their "adventures" appealing, adventurous as I was. The whole scene was already devolving, and I was getting older (ripe old age of 19).

One day we got the bright idea to move to the country. I think the whole youth nation had the same idea- it was probably a survival instinct, and it was highly romanticized by our culture heros. "Goin up the Country" by Canned Heat played at the beginning of Woodstock, and Woodstock itself was a celebration of country life- mud, outdoors, camping out, living off the land, free and easy spirits and all that. People were heading for communes and retreats with the idea that dropping out was the only way to keep your head and your heart intact. Things were very tribal.

We decided to go to a very very rural area of the state. Nicky would teach school and I would go to nursing school. We found a house outside of town- a very small town- and set up housekeeping. I rode a schoolbus to the nearest larger town which was Dothan, and went to school at George Wallace Jr. College at no cost to me. I loved it. My teachers were rather puzzled by my appearance but eventually accepted me and actually gave me a great nursing education. I was a straight A student but I had only one outfit- my same embroidered jeans, now well patched, and a pair of red and blue tennis shoes that I bought for 50 cents. I did have a couple of t-shirts. Birmingham was about 10 years behind the scene, but Dothan was even further behind.

I had no peer group, but that was ok, because I was now married and "settled down". I rode the bus back home each evening, and will never forget the guy who was a Vietnam vet who rode the bus along with about 25 of us. He had a glass eye with a Playboy bunny in the center of it. Gives you an idea of what I mean. One time we invited another young couple over for dinner. When I said something about Bob Dylan the woman said "isn't that the new store over in ....? What can you say?

That year we had the best time with the openess and quiet of the Alabama countryside. We were also 5 miles from the Florida line so we could drive to the state line and eat oysters at a roadside open air oyster bar or head on down to the Gulf. That was nice. We also joined the Columbia Records record club, and got albums in the mail like Aqualung by Jethro Tull and Meddle by Pink Floyd. We got a puppy and named him Shamus for a line in the Pink Floyd album. As I said before, sidetrips from Southside saved my life!

So as the year changed to 1972 and the school year came to an end, so did the country life experiment end. We decided to move back to Birmingham that summer, and went right back to the Southside scene which was now in full tilt boogie mode.

Saturday, April 25, 2009


I can't imagine how my developing personhood would have turned out had it not been for the Firesign Theatre. Beginning in the late 60's and up until 1976, I could look forward to each new album and each new experience with this surreal craziness. To listen to Firesign Theatre was like undergoing a mental housecleaning, reality check and realignment all at the same time. It was hilarious and challenging. There was nothing passive about hanging out with the characters. Story lines were weird and compelling, interwoven with new and creative forms of funny stuff. They invented themselves and kept us guessing.

Others like Cheech and Chong were funny, but their humor was more predictable. And they were always just two druggies.

These are the albums that I have and treasure. It's all cheap shots but no cheap shots. This is an art form that should be evolving!!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Southside Life

At the age of 18 on the Southside in Birmingham I spent a lot of time in Caldwell and Rhodes Park, and walking around Highland Avenue.

I want to take a memory tour around the area.

The heart of Southside is 5 Points South. The intersection now famously has a fountain with metal sculptures by Frank Fleming. The sculptures depict a storyteller who is a goat, reading to other animal characters. It is perfect for 5 Points.

Behind the fountain on one side is the beautiful Highlands Methodist Church. It is a huge place with a spanish tile roof- very impressive but not imposing. As the name 5 Points suggests, roads lead away in 5 directions. Down Magnoia Avenue was Magnolia Park where we held some sort of candlelight vigil- I can't remember for what.
Highland Avenue starts at the corner where the Cadillac Cafe was, and above it was a huge Barber's milk neon sign. Further down Highland you pass the Town House, the first of two Presbyterian Churches, the Jewish Temple, the Western supermarket, and then it continued to wind around Caldwell and Rhodes Park, huge old homes, apartment buildings, Unity Church, past a small Lutheran church, and another huge Presbyterian Church. The famous Sheraton was there, and the Sheraton grocery, the Highland Market, and there used to be a large Catholic high school, John Carroll, right there in the middle of it all. At the end of Highland was the Highland Golf Course. The Sheraton was famous because it was where we could buy beer!

Going in the other direction on Highland (called 12th Ave, then 11th Ave) are other shops including the Golden Temple, the area's first health food store.Across from it is the very large and imposing white marble Southside Baptist Church. Going north and south from 5 Points is 20th Street South. The drive into the intersection from the South gives you a full view of the city and you pass right under the torch of the Vulcan, the gigantic god that sits atop Red Mountain. If you want to get a feel for this from the view inside a car (it is a little unnerving the first time you take the curve and see over the edge while maneuvering in 4 lanes of traffic at the same time)it was filmed just at this time period in the movie "Stay Hungry"- a weird weird film with Sally Field, Jeff Bridges and Arnold Schwartzenegger who plays a body builder.

Continuing on north headed into Birmingham on 2oth Street takes you to the campus of the University of Alabama in Birmingham, University Hospital and then dividing the south streets from the north streets the cobblestoned Morris Avenue, which was Birmingham's attempt at imitating Underground Atlanta. I do remember the Crazy Horse club was there. It is also home to the Peanut Depot.

Side trips could take you over to Glen Iris, George Ward Park or to Clarimont Avenue and Forest Park. Phelan Park across from Dreamland Barbecue did not look like it does today. There was no Dreamland, and we called it "needle park" for obvious reasons.
Mostly it was a joy to either drive all the curvy roads or walk around up and down on the Southside. I could visit my friends who lived in houses and apartments up the side of Red Mountain so views were plentiful. I think my favorite place was Letchworth. It had the best most close up view of the city and the building had all the style and character of the 1920's.